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Classical 101

Classical 101 Broadcasts Verdi’s Requiem Live From Ohio State

Alessandro Manzoni

The School of Music at The Ohio State University presents Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem at 3 pm next Sunday, March 8 in Mershon Auditorium.

Marshall Haddock conducts the OSU Symphony and OSU’s combined choirs. Robert Ward is choral director. The performance will be broadcast live on Classical 101.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) wrote twenty-six operas; Rigoletto, La traviata and Aida. Verdi tied with Richard Wagner as the 19th century’s most succesful composer. Where Wagner was arduous on stage and off, Verdi was known to be a sovereign professional. He was involved in every aspect of his operas from nagging the librettists to staging revivals.

You’d think all of his operas would be enough.  We have no symphonies by Verdi, but we do have one string quartet. The composer’s juvenilia from his school days is lost or ignored. There is a fascinating collection of Pezzi sacri and then there’s the Requiem.


Verdi came out of the risorgimento movement of the early to mid-nineteenth century, as Italy moved away from Franco-Austrian domination towards independence. Like many of his contemporaries, the composer was anti-clerical. He was deeply resentful of the Vatican’s control of Rome and Central Italy and the Papal See’s collaboration with Austria.

As such, Verdi was no church-goer. He did, at the end of his life, request a simple funeral with, “A candle, a book and a priest,” but I doubt the maestro was one to be up early for 7:30 mass.

Nevertheless when the Italian author and patriot Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) died, it was Verdi who asked a dozen fellow composer’s to collaborate on a Requiem mass in honor of the father of Italian letters. When you produce a work by committee you get a lot of enthusiasm and few results. Soon it was clear that a Requiem for Manzoni would have to come from Verdi exclusively.

Lucky us! Verdi’s Requiem is sometimes called his twenty-seventh opera.  Verdi memorializes Manzoni, who gave the Italian language back to his people, with trumpets, with drums, with large choruses, with drama (Dies irae) and with beauty (Hostias, Libera me). The soloists need to be true, powerhouse opera singers.


The work premiered in the Church of San Marco in Milan on May 22, 1874, the one year anniversary of Manzoni’s death. Verdi conducted. The soloists included the composer’s mistress, soprano Teresa Stolz, who had been the first Aida. (Mrs. Verdi, the retired soprano Giuseppina Strepponi may have stayed home.)

Verdi’s Requiem is seldom performed in churches. It’s clear the composer intended this work for the concert hall. There it has thrived for the past 140 years.  Verdi demands everything from his orchestra and chorus. There are shades of drama and meaning in every phrase. If you aren’t up on your liturgical Latin, remember that this work was a memorial to a man Verdi and many Italians revered above all others.

Manzoni’s novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) is to Italy what all of Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer and Eliot are to the British. It legitimized the Italian language to the world at a time when legal documents in Italy were still required to use French or German.



Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.